Starting From Scratch
The first surprise of spring
I wasn’t going to share this story because, basically, it doesn’t shine my farmer skills in a very good light. But I was told that these are the stories that capture the audience’s attention. Well, maybe not the part with me looking bad, but the fact that my experiences are not unlike the experiences of others in some form or fashion. I am just the one putting myself out there every month.
We had a lamb! Yay! Wait — my ewe was pregnant? Where have I heard this story before? Oh yes, the unexpected two litters of piglets that arrived at Oxbow Farm this past fall. At some point in my schooling, I missed an important health class, because I still obviously think that I won’t get babies if the males and females are living together. Never assume that the male is too young to breed or that the female is too small to be ready to have babies. Also, just because you didn’t see any frolicking in the hay, doesn’t mean that breeding didn’t happen.
Last year, in March’s column, I spoke of a dinner party my friend Elizabeth’s house that involved great farming conversations, the best lamb stew and, coincidentally, the arrival of three baby lambs out in the barn. It was a year to the day that we had a little lamb born on our farm — sans the dinner party — fathered by Lenny, one of those three lambs from last spring.
Little Moe was born much to the surprise of this extremely inexperienced shepherdess. The night he was born, I came down to the barn to turn off the lights and collect the last of the eggs. I noticed that one side of the barn was starting to take on water from the melting snow outside, so I gathered chickens from one stall and moved them in with other chickens in another stall. It was slightly cramped quarters, but I figured it would be all right for a few days until we figured out what we were going to do about the water situation. I turned off the chickens’ lights, all the while the three sheep and two goats were baaing away like crazy for their night-time grain in the neighboring stall.
When I came into their stall to place the grain in their trough, they all pushed me aside and pushed at each other to get their share. I came out of stall and shut the door behind me and it was then that I saw this little white furry creature with floppy ears standing on long, gangly, unsteady legs, right smack dab in the middle of the stall.
“Baaa,” it said meekly as it gazed up at me.
“Where the heck did you come from?” I exclaimed. Immediately, my mind started racing. I know people drop off stray cats at a farm, but a lamb? Who would do that? Who knew I had sheep? What happened to its mother?
Then one of my darling ewes came over to the lamb and nickered low and soft and the little lamb answered her back. When the ewe turned around I noticed the umbilical chord still attached! Oh my goodness — she had just given birth.
I proceeded to walk around in a circle asking myself, “What am I going to do? Where am I going to put these two? How am I going to move them?” I didn’t have any extra space now that the stalls on the right were slowly filling up with water and the chickens already needed combining. The only solution I could think of at that moment was to take the chickens that I had just moved not minutes before, and move them into another stall with even more chickens. They were jammed so tight together, that they could hardly move. “Suck it up.” I said to them. “It’s only temporary.”
I then coaxed the remaining two sheep and two goats into the now-empty stall with some grain. Once the grain was gone and they realized they were in a new spot, they let me know of their displeasure.
I ran up to the house to call Elizabeth and hoped that she had not yet gone to bed for the night. She was as surprised as I was to find out that I had a little lamb. She arrived and thankfully eased all my fears with her knowledge of lambing. We cut and treated the umbilical chord and made sure that the little guy was able to nurse.
This whole experience was pretty mind-blowing and surreal. The fact that I didn’t even know that this sheep was pregnant is the part that really makes me looks like an inexperienced farmer. If I had known, I would have made sure that she had the correct food and a quiet spot to herself. I would have shaved around her utter to make it easier for the little guy to nurse. In my defense, with her winter wool and the fact that she only had one lamb, she didn’t look any bigger than the months and weeks before. And also her milk hadn’t come in and her teats didn’t drop — sure signs of an approaching little one.
So next year, if there are more lambs born on Oxbow Farm, I will circle the date on my calendar and clear my schedule and hope that my preparedness and knowledge will be a little bit more than what it was this year.
Kim Graham lives in Dublin with her husband, Jim, and their two children. The couple hails from New Brunswick, Canada. This column chronicles their first-ever adventures in farming. For more about the farm, seewww.oxbowfarmnh.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.